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Facebook enters the education platform wars, partners with Silicon Valley charter network
Personalized learning platform follows competing efforts by Google, Microsoft and Amazon to reinvent public education. - photo by Eric Schulzke
A charter school network that operates 11 schools in California and Washington state announced that it is partnering with Facebook to develop an innovative personalized learning software platform that is about to begin its second year of testing, the New York Times reports.

The software program, known as Summit Basecamp, puts students in charge of their own progress, allowing them to organize and schedule pieces of what they need to learn themselves, while teachers work directly with students one on one. The idea is to give students greater control, helping them learn to be "project managers" for their own lives, not just in school.

Facebook's announcement that it had come on board to help improve and scale the software is a huge boost for Summit Public Schools, but it paved the way for that partnership by developing and testing the software itself over the past school year.

Summit began the experiment last year with 19 schools scattered across 13 states. Fifteen of those schools were traditional public schools, and only four were public charters, proof that Summit does not view this platform as a proprietary, niche product or one aimed purely at charters.

Lizzie Choi, Summits Basecamp director, told that opening up the project to a wide variety of schools for testing was important from the outset. The team wanted to see what it looks like to use the PLP tool in a variety of contexts" and they wanted to break out of the silo effect by engaging schools across the country in testing and development.

"The software gives students a full view of their academic responsibilities for the year in each class and breaks them down into customizable lesson modules they can tackle at their own pace," according to the New York Times article. "A student working on a science assignment, for example, may choose to create a project using video, text or audio files. Students may also work asynchronously, tackling different sections of the years work at the same time."

Recognizing that transitions take time and a steep learning curve was likely, Summit Basecamp noted in a progress report released this spring that it expected that student achievement would "hold steady" during the transition. Instead, the mid-year assessment showed above average progress in math and reading.

Reading progress for all students improved 38 percent better over the national average, while math held steady. But for students who entered the year furthest behind, math improved 23 percent over similar peers nationally, while reading gains were a startling 93 percent better.

"The system inverts the traditional teacher-led classroom hierarchy," The New York Times notes, "requiring schools to provide intensive one-on-one mentoring and coaching to help each student adapt."
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